OKLAHOMA CITY — Experience is the name men give their mistakes.
The Spurs have had nearly 12 months to learn from their very biggest.
On the first day of training camp back in October, coach Gregg Popovich showed them the video of everything that had slipped through their grasp last June in Miami.
As if they needed a reminder.
“It was just to put it away, get over that part of it, learn from it and move on from there,” said Tim Duncan.
So they’ve moved full circle, like the Earth around the sun, and here was Duncan, one of the immutable forces of basketball and nature, completing that orbit.
He’s done it so many times in the past– those critical rebounds, those key baskets, those difference-making plays — that you tend to nod your head and move on.
The official play-by-play sheet called it a 5-foot turnaround and the guy who typed that up probably would have called Rome just a city on some hills.
The Spurs had just a one-point lead when Manu Ginobili found him with the pass that OKC’s Russell Westbrook tried to swipe at and missed. Westbrook went around and underneath the play and took another swing at the ball and missed again down low. Duncan then rose up, let go with the turnaround over the outstretched arms of Reggie Jackson, but not before Westbrook took one more try and fanned one more time. The ball bounced off the front rim, kissed off the backboard and fell into the net.
“Finally got a roll,” Duncan said.
After four previous championships and five prior trips to the last series in June, the Spurs finally are making back-to-back trips to The Finals and it’s most important to be getting their chance to make up for the agonizing loss against the Heat.
The Spurs did it down the stretch without their starting point guard and best player Tony Parker, who was sidelined at halftime with a sore left ankle.
The Spurs did it against a Thunder team that probably had the two best individual talents in the series in Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
The Spurs did it with balance and patience and poise and trust and with a few of the usual tricks from Old Man Riverwalk, who at 38, is still pulling out those tried-and-true basic moves that keep working in every lunchtime game in every YMCA from sea-to-head-faking sea.
Duncan was 2-for-2 in the overtime with a pair of rebounds and scored the seven consecutive points that ultimately lifted the Spurs to the 112-107 victory over the Thunder and the Western Conference title.
As he’s done so often for 17 NBA seasons, Duncan was there to make the plays and do the heavy lifting at the end, which was particularly poignant in a year when the Spurs carried their burden.
“We just had a weird year,” Duncan said. “We were pressing hard early on and grinding on each other, just because of what happened last year.
“We were able to settle ourselves down. We played with a bunch of different lineups all year long. We had guys ready to play and it’s shown throughout these playoffs where guys just step up and step in and are ready.
“I’m proud of the team for just being ready, just not letting that weigh on us and using it as an excuse for anything. We’re back here now and we want to get it done this time.”
When the Thunder had used their young legs and a wave of youthful enthusiasm to win two straight games on their home court to tie the series, there was some thought that the Spurs were finally ready to pass into history.
Instead Duncan kept right on making it by hitting 14 of 27 shots, scoring 41 points and grabbing 27 rebounds in the last two games to keep the door closed on what is supposed to have been the ushering in of the Thunder Era.
“You know that he might be struggling one game or missing a few shots,” Ginobili said. “But he’s there and the opponent has got to respect him. He’s always ready with a solution down the stretch.”
As ready as he has been for nearly two decades in the league. As primed for this moment as since the last second that ticked off the clock last June in Miami.
“It’s unbelievable to regain that focus after exactly that, that devastating loss we had last year,” Duncan said. “But we’re back here and we’re excited about it and we’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.”
Tim Duncan has had enough experiences.